I’m always wary of picking up books that reference India and Indian heritage, especially romance novels. I mean, I have a huge pet peeve about the exotic as the erotic, and half-Indian heroes, and have blogged about it in the past. Between that and the fact that it’s been a while since Mary Jo Putney wrote a historical romance, I was wary about picking up Loving a Lost Lord. Plus, the title is hella lame and after enjoying Putney’s Fallen Angels books I didn’t have much desire to read about a new crop of childhood friends who grew up to become powerful lords. But after a few recommendations, I decided to put all my misgivings aside and give the novel a shot.
And part of me wishes I hadn’t. It’s not a poorly written book, although you can tell that Putney is rusty and the plot starts to border on the ridiculous towards the end. But it does distinctly smack of an outsider writing about a culture she’s not familiar with…in a way that threw me out of the story. The first time I found myself standing outside the pages and going, “What the Hell?” was when her hero, Adam, referenced Diwali as being a festival for the goddess Lakshmi. Uh…no. While a Lakshmi puja is a very significant part of Diwali, the actual festival generally celebrates Lord Rama’s return to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana. Then, I noticed something else that proceeded to bug the hell out of me so much I had to walk over to my laptop to write this post. Adam has a secret Hindu shrine off of his bedroom. Adam goes into this shrine a few times, even taking the heroine, Mariah, to see it.
There is no mention made of shoes being taken off.
And, okay, you can accuse me of nitpicking, but I don’t think it’s a nitpick. It’s a basic tenet of practicing Hinduism. No shoes in a temple. Period. What’s left of my CD and book collection at my parents’ house is in the same room as Mom’s shrine…you can damn well bet I slip my sandals off before going in there to get things.
And the simple fact that Putney had Adam and Mariah waltzing in and out of there without acknowledging something that seemingly trivial made me put the book down. I mean, I’ll finish it, but it just bothers me. Even authors who try, who make the effort to write about characters of color (or partial color, as it may be), get it wrong. Putney made me mildly uncomfortable with her books The Wild Child and The China Bride, too. Because although I sincerely appreciated the inclusion of Indian and Chinese culture, there was just that hint of…Not Quite Getting It. Of Othering the un-British culture and rendering it something strange and exotic. And something like this…where Adam is the socially acceptable* sex object, with a secret Hindu shrine and a Wikipedia handling of Hinduism…it just doesn’t cut it. I think if you’re going to “go there,” you have to try harder. You have to really pay attention to the details. And it’s not just a case of me saying, “OMG, white authors don’t get it.” Marjorie Liu recently tossed me out of a story as well. In Soul Song, she writes about biracial Kitala Bell, who is half-black and half-white. A good portion of the book involves Kit getting submerged in water. You know what I kept thinking? “What the Hell is that doing to her hair?” Stupid thing to focus on? Probably. But I couldn’t help it! What was the texture of Kit’s hair? Was she wearing a weave? It was something that Liu never addressed, just the color and that it was curly. And having watched enough friends flip out at sudden rainstorms, it was something that stood out to me.
Again, I appreciate that romance authors want to try and be diverse, but I think it speaks volumes if when you’re trying to get your foot in the door with multiracial romance, you don’t take your shoe off when you’re supposed to.
*by “socially acceptable,” I mean to the romance reader, not to the surrounding characters. As there seems to be this subtle idea that a mainstream audience can’t connect with a minority hero or heroine unless they’ve got some white in them.